Exploring the Napali Coast

I have travelled far and wide, and it is easy to say that at the time this article was written, I would claim that Kaua’i’s Napali Coast is one of the most gorgeous natural formations I have ever seen. The steep coastline and thick foliage contrasting the turquoise waters form a picturesque view unparalleled by many of the world’s sights.

The first glimpse of the coast

There are two main ways to get to the coast: hiking or by boat. However, the hike is very strenuous and dangerous, making an option only for those who are fit for such a task. While the hike would be enjoyable, it also doesn’t offer a view of the coast from afar, which is quite remarkable.

My family and I opted to take the boat option, so we could get some snorkeling in too. Originally, we planned to take a catamaran, but it was canceled due to high winds, so we scheduled for another day and took a raft instead. Our tour company, Kauai Sea Tours, was super helpful in navigating this dilemma and I would totally recommend touring with them.

The open water

We departed and spent time on the open ocean for a bit before heading to the coastline. Here, you can catch glimpses of the forbidden island, which is only open by invitation. You may also have an opportunity to see marine life, including whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. The dolphins are in what’s called an alpha state, meaning that they are sleeping. With this being said, do not take any tours that swim with dolphins. Since dolphins are nocturnal, swimming with tourists is the equivalent of waking up in the middle of the night consistently, leading to sleep deprivation and numerous health issues. There is a ban on this in Kaua’i, but other islands allow it, so make sure to pick tours carefully. However, seeing them and the other critters is a harm free and beautiful experience!

Two dolphins

On the way to the coast are many stunning sea caves and grottos. Some can be accessed by raft (when weather and waves allow), which we got to partake in to some extent. The one pictured below has an opening on the other side that has hosted numerous weddings (all millionaires, of course). Many of the caves can be rather dangerous so make sure you are with an experienced captain.

There are many other beautiful sights along the way as well. There are some remote beaches, many of which are restricted and sacred, so please honor these wishes. Some allow foot traffic or access by kayak, but these trips can be risky, especially if the weather denies easy exit. Our captain told us a tale of a man who kayaked out and was trapped by waves. Since no captains could access him, he was stranded for over a week. The beach pictured below, Honopu beach, was actually a burial ground, making it a heavily restricted area. Kings of the native groups were buried here, along with the common people. However, it was believed that the royal people had mana, or power in their bones, which could be stolen after burial. Due to this, a person was commissioned to climb the cliff face and hide the bones in the rocks. Once the deed was done, they would cut their rope and commit suicide to prevent anyone from knowing the location. Their family would ascend in social class as well, making it a privilege and honor to bury the king. This beach, even though sacred, has been in several movies, including Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Another interesting thing about this beach is the tunnel, which was used in several movie scenes. One of the most intense scenes filmed included a man flying a helicopter through the tunnel that is fairly narrow. The man was an ex Vietnam pilot and very talented, but despite his skill, the tunnel was an extraordinarily dangerous place to fly. In exchange for risking his life, the filmmakers paid him a pretty penny to do it, not once, but three times. After realizing this daunting task was easy for him, he took his earnings, started a helicopter touring company, and said that if the customers gave him a generous tip, he would give them “the ride of a lifetime.” To those who tipped, they found themselves barely squeezing through this tunnel, afraid that they will never live to see the light of day. Apparently, after scaring tourists on a regular basis, Hawai’i removed his rights to a helicopter company, but not his license. He supposedly relocated to the Grand Canyon, where he does other death defying tricks.

Honopu Beach

The tour will take you from the shady and more rocky side of the island to the green and lush side, where the iconic views of the Napali coast are. The hills are beautiful and jagged due to the volcanic rock and torrential ocean waves. At the most beautiful spot, the mountains dip into a nest with twelve spires. Legend has it that a god in bird form hatched twelve children, of which were intended to be nocturnal. Their mother tended them carefully and reminded them they must be in the nest by sunrise. However, one night they stayed out too late and the poor mother watched them turn to stone.

The twelve spires

It may be different for other tours, but ours ended in a brief snorkeling adventure. For someone who has grown up around freshwater, like me, it’s always a weird experience swimming in the ocean. Nevertheless, it was super fun and we got to see some ocean life, such as fish and coral. It was fun to get up close and personal with them!


Overall, this was one of my favorite parts of our trip and an experience that I would recommend to anyone in the area! It was stunning, family friendly, and full of history! I would love to return someday!

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